Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Wacky Wednesday!

So I thought I'd pose this question that you've probably been asked before at least once in your life..
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what 5 things would you have?
Think about it carefully before you answer. :)
The reason why I'm posing this question is because I'm currently experiencing an 'I don't know what to write' moment and I figured, why not? It's Wacky Wednesday! I like asking random questions that make you think! Maybe I'll do this every Wednesday? 
I've been pretty caught up with my current job. My high schoolers are now starting school and now I've been catching up with ordering their uniforms for Cross Country and planning their crazy running schedule! I'm now taking a break from the working world and am LOVING my current job as a High School Boys and Girls Cross Country Coach. Best 'taking a break' job ever! (I was a Pre-Kindergarten Teacher for 8 years and I miss my little ones like crazy!) But I needed more room for travel.
Anyway, I'm also posing this question because my friend joked about it the other day and it brought back my memories of being stuck on Yandup Island in San Blas, Panama. It wasn't a joke then! I used to live this question up until I experienced it for myself.
This is a true story.
You're noticing the cloudy weather and the bumpy boat ride to your island destination.

Ah my chubby cheeks! I've leaned out since then!!
Nevertheless, excited to spend time on a beautiful island. A bit cloudy but hoping for the best.

 Then all of a sudden it starts to rain.
Relaxing in my rain soaked hammock listening to the sound of the beautiful rain. I am definitely a rain girl. Not a usual 'Southern California' thing. And that's what makes me unique. :)
And it got extremely windy. Taking a chance and walking around the island in this weather would mean experiencing flying for the first time!

Now when I travel, I have my usual deck of cards, word searches, sudoku games, and journal. But one can only play with those for so long before you either: a) get a headache b) get hungry or c) get bored!
And knowing me, I have a hard time sitting still! I'm an explorer. I love learning knew things. Experiencing places I've never been before. And I only play with my deck of cards, word searches, and sudoku games when I'm on the airplane!
So after a little awhile, I was getting antsy! So I wandered around...
I found a coconut! Coconuts + Reima = love. :)

I named it 'Wilson'!
Well I tried to crack this coconut open for I'd say at least 40 minutes with no tools. I couldn't do it! And gave up.
I ended up wandering around but the wind was taking no prisoners. The rain was getting heavier. Although the island was still incredibly beautiful to me, I could no longer walk around. This island is very small and there weren't many other people here so pretty much deserted. The tour guides and people who work on this island live on other islands so no one was really around.
Later that night at dinner, they told us unless the weather changes, the flights were going to be cancelled and we'd have to spend another day there. I was only able to stay for one day/night on Yandup, mainly due to funds at the time, so it was not fun having to pay another night when I was already on a tight budget! Fortunately, they gave me a discount.
Which I ended up paying because the next day, the plane didn't arrive. Glad this day was a little better. The water calmed down and all us survivors on the island were taken to another island to explore and see some locals and how they live.

Ukupseni Island. These beautiful boys playing my favorite game, soccer, even after the storm.
This was the highlight of my second day on the island and so thankful that we were able to explore another island while the weather was still gloomy.
That night, it rained again. This time I was extremely worried because I was actually supposed to be in Bocas del Toro at the time, missed my flight to Bocas del Toro, and the next day I had a flight to Costa Rica to meet up with a friend.
Next day came and we went back to Playon Chico in hopes that the plane would come.
I needed to explore one more time, so I crossed the bridge that was between Playon Chico and the nearest island.

I was about to give up hope and then there was the sound. The sound of a plane flying above! It was here!
Grabbed my backpack and hopped onto the plane. I made it! Survived! Before we got back to Panama City, the plane made a stop on another island to pick up some other passengers.
It was one of the saddest sites I have ever seen. There were only 3 spots left on this small plane but there were at least 25 people arguing about who would get those three spots. All these people were stuck on their island as well! After some time, they chose the family with two children to get on the plane. I wished the plane had been big enough for everyone.
So after this experience, I NEVER joked about being stuck on an island ever again! And I still haven't.
I was only stuck for two days.
The San Blas islands are a beautiful place and I'm thankful I got to stay there but I'd suggest bringing a friend just in case this happens again! Don't go alone. :) Besides the fact I have more opinions about these islands and the people here. I'll save that for another day.
This occurred in the month of December 2011.
Now, with all this said and after much thought, I think these are the 5 things I'd have on a deserted island:
(remember, there is NO internet access/technology!)
1) Flashlight/Extra batteries
2) A knife (for the coconuts and fish/seafood I've caught after fishing!)
3) Fire Metal Match Starter
4) A journal with plenty of paper/pens
5) Marshmallows - My guilty pleasure! 
What's on your list?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

PROS Vs. CONS of Hostels

Oh the hostel.
The good. The bad. The parties. The solitude. The pleasant and not so pleasant roommates. To share a room or not to share a room. Location. Location. Location.
A forever hot topic to us travelers.
And the "Why are you staying in hostels?" topic for the non-travelers.
And I am here to say enough with the bad rap of hostels!
Sure there are some I would never stay in and have had to stay in, but some really aren't that bad and are actually just perfect for us budget travelers. The locations of most hostels, in my opinion, are better than hotels themselves. You are near tons of action and probably closer to more 'off the beaten path' activities and neighborhoods that you may not see by staying at a hotel.
A hostel is good for all ages. I've seen the late teens staying there through adults in their 40's, even early 50's.
Not every hostel is a 'party' hostel. And some may even label them as such but are not loud enough so that you can actually get a good nights sleep for those who travel for the culture and not the nightlife.

I've made a PROs and CONS list to show what is always on my mind when I look for a place to stay when I travel. Having a CONS list does not make me want to 'not stay in hostels' but it actually makes me well aware of where I am staying and to make good decisions. Some hostels are just better than others. That's a given. I keep this list in mind when I look at places to stay because 1) I'm a solo female traveler and 2) Safety is #1 to me so I am always prepared for the worst.


Make new friends
Get advice from other travelers
Cheaper tours
Able to book buses/transportation/taxis
Some hostels have fun activities planned
Helpful, fun, and trustworthy staff
Storage rooms
Free Wifi
Safe ?
Sharing a room up to 10 beds
Shared bathroom with multiple rooms
*Roommates and their 'guests'
Uncomfortable beds
No lockers
May not be a great location
**Expensive during celebrations
Does not offer most amenities
Loud roommates at night and early morning
Lights turned on at night
***Untrustworthy staff
Not Safe ?
*The one thing I am definitely not a fan of are having roommates who bring significant others or people they have just met 'for the night' into a shared room. I have experienced this quite a few times and it ALWAYS makes the whole room uncomfortable. It's obvious. What you do is your choice but please, please if you plan on doing this (which I'm against people not respecting themselves), get a private room.
**For example, I was in Brazil during Carnival one year and the hostel jumped from $13 to $75 a night just for that week alone. So you're basically paying hotel prices for a hostel room with less amenities. You eat the costs but hopefully you have a great time despite!
***Always be wary of the staff until you get comfortable. I had to pay for something and gave money to one of the guys working that day. I discovered I needed to pay a little bit more so I turned my back to get the remainder cash, handed it to him, and he basically hid the money I gave him and said I didn't give him anything. I HAVE NEVER LIED ABOUT HIDING ANYTHING AND HAVE NEVER STOLEN FROM ANYONE IN MY LIFE so this was a complete shock to me. I was getting a little emotional and he told me 'I didn't have to worry about paying the remainder balance.' So not only did he lie and try to steal money from me, he made it sound like he was forgiving me for not paying him. So just be careful. This happened in Antigua, Guatemala at the hostel: El Hostel. It may have a 92% positive rating on but I would AVOID staying here if possible.
?Safe or Not Safe, that is the question. Some hostels have guards. And some don't. Some keep their gates locked at all times and some don't even have gates. Always research the area you are staying in and the safety of the hostel itself. What they do to make sure nothing bad happens.
My 10 bed Mixed Dorm at Luna's Castle Hostel in Panama City, Panama. Funny that it was a 'mixed' dorm because I ended up rooming with 9 guys! Of course I was extrememly cautious but they ended up being like brothers to me and made sure I was safe and sound.
Now if you look at the list, they are pretty equal. That doesn't mean my argument is lost. What I mainly wanted to get across is that not all hostels are created equal. Some you are glad you stayed in and others you wished you never laid eyes on. But if you notice, I didn't post anything that should alarm you to think twice about staying in hostels. Everything, I think, is considered normal.
This list should be looked at the same way for hotels. Not all hotels were created equal. Sometimes you end up spending quadruple or more for a night in a hotel room but whose to say that the room is clean? Safe? Trustworthy?
Did I miss something on the list? What experiences (good and bad) have you had? Hostel or Hotel?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

How Do You Pack For An Adventure?

My backpack.
My home away from home.
It has everything I need to live in another country.
My backpack in the Amazon, Coca, Ecuador.
This backpack is perfect for a three week - up to a month or so adventure. I have another one that's a whole lot bigger. It's somewhere hidden in my garage - haven't used it since 2009 so not exactly sure how many liters it is but definitely worthy of a year or so adventure.
The questions I always get when anyone sees my backpack are: How do you pack? What do you pack in there? How in the world do you fit everything in it? It's so small!
By only using a backpack, I feel more prepared, extremely organized, and left being able to travel and see more without having to worry about my belongings.
I find the smaller the bag, the better I pack. There's nothing worse than packing items that you won't even touch on your adventure!
I thought I'd put a list up of the items I take on my travels. My trips have so far been 3 weeks so this list is good for short-term trips. I see, hopefully, longer trips in my near future! And in that case, I'll have to change the list when that happens!
Here's my go to travel essentials:
My Backpack
Travel Plug Converter - I use an all-in-one so I don't lose the pieces!
Camera and Two Memory Cards
Apple iTouch iPod
Camera and iPod chargers
An Inflatable Neck Pillow for the plane
Small Fleece Blanket - For the plane, bus, and hostel; To stay warm when it's cold.
Money Belt - Which I definitely prefer over a 'neck belt'.
Money and a Good Credit Card - In case of emergencies; Always inform your credit card agency of your travel plans. It would hurt if you needed to use it and they don't authorize the transaction!
2-4 Locks With Keys - I prefer hostels for my low budget so this is a must to keep your items together.
Toothbrush, Travel Size Tooth Paste and Mouthwash, and Floss
Travel Size Shampoo, Conditioner, and Leave-in Cream - Because I have crazy curls that tangle easily! I buy the bottles in the $1 section at Target so I can fill them with my own liquids.
Hair brush, ties, pins, clip, and straightener
Make up - loose powder, Mascara, Chap stick (can't live without!), and Lip gloss
Make up remover wipes- Amount needed is based on how many days are in your trip. I use one per day, with a few extra left just in case.
Travel size Sun Screen and Aloe Vera
Travel size Body Lotion- Any brand you prefer
Dry Soap- The person who created this = Genius!
Travel size Deodorant
A pair of Flip Flops
A pair of regular Shoes - TOMS are my go-to travel shoes
My Running Shoes - Because I know I'll be hiking or climbing up something!
Two undergarments and One sports bra
Enough Underwear to last the trip or enough to get you until your next washer and dryer (or washer and clothes line)
As for clothes-
I like to pick shirts that I can wear alone and mix & match them with others. It goes a long way!- About 6-9 shirts. I also stay away from shirts that stand out. I try to look as normal as I can and blend in with the locals. My good friend taught me the military-style way of folding clothes from her brother to help make room when packing. I haven't folded clothes any other way when I travel!
1-2 pairs of shorts
1 dress or long skirt
1-2 pairs of jeans
1-2 pairs of leggings
1 long sleeve shirt - Only when traveling during the cooler months or staying in a rainforest/jungle area
1 jacket - Only when I know for sure there will be cool weather and/or staying in a rainforest/jungle. Or I end up just buying one when I get to my destination.
5-7 pairs of socks - I do a lot of exploring where I need my running shoes!
1-2 Travel size Laundry Detergent
Items for your time of the month 
1-2 Heating pads - This item is HIGHLY loved and appreciated. TMI but needed information for us females!
Naproxen Prescription - For the pain.
Lactose Pills - I drank way too much of this good stuff: 'te con leche' in Argentina back in 2009 and when I came back, I no longer had the tolerance for milk. Now, in 2013, I've been working at it and slowly I'm able to have my beloved milk products. I bring the pills just in case.
Pepto Bismal and/or Immodium - Because it'll be a miracle if you go a whole trip without having stomach problems!
Band-Aids and Neosporin
Water Bottle Holder - Found it in the Galapagos and I absolutely love it! Helpful when hiking up volcanoes or wandering around the jungle! My hands are free!
Bug Bite Cream
DEET - For Mosquito zones. I have one 25% DEET spray and one 100% DEET spray.
Mini Alarm Clock
Pens and a Journal
Travel size Snacks - I prefer mixed nuts in individual bags. Great for the airplane, bus rides, and days when you aren't able to get any local treats.
Small Word Search Book and a Small Sudoku book
Deck of Cards
A Good Book - Lately, I've been thinking about taking this off the list! I find I like to keep busy and never really have the time to read. (I'm like the Energizer Bunny!:)
*To note:
I never have a set itinerary but I do email a few friends and family the dates I plan on being gone and either where I'll be or what country I'll be staying in so someone does know my whereabouts.
*Some of the vaccines I have gotten for my trips:
Hepatitis A
Yellow Fever
Updated on Polio and Tdap
Have received and used Mefloquine - (Malaria prescription) Which I didn't like and don't plan on ever using again.
This list appears long but everything is small enough so that it does all fit in the backpack with some room left over. This is a list more for a budget traveler and for short-term travel (about a month). If this is not your style of travel, you can get away with not using all these items and just purchase what you need; clothes and such, as you go from one place to the next. For me, I like to have everything already that way I can put my budget towards hostels, food, and adventures. Of course long-term travel means packing your bag (or bags) differently. 
Did you see something new on this list? Didn't see your favorite go-to item? Please let me know! I'd love to learn about new things.
What do you bring on your travels and how do you pack?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Misconceptions of the Solo Female Traveler

Yungas Road, Bolivia

Before I get into anymore of my stories and love of this magnificent world, I feel like I need to delve into the topic of 'Solo Female Traveling'. I have heard stories upon stories of females traveling and how they shouldn't go solo. Numerous friends and family members always yelling at me before each one of my adventures about going on my own.  
"It's unsafe. What are you thinking! Where do you think you are going? It is dangerous out there. I can't believe you. This is not one of your smartest choices. Just stay here; why do you need to go out there? Didn't you watch the movie Taken? (I did. Actually the first time was in Spanish and on a bus in Argentina. I found it a little too extreme.) Are you going to watch Taken 2? (No.) Have you watched Brokedown Palace? (No, but I'd like to.) Why don't you go with a friend or two?"
Teotihuacan, Mexico
Yes, I know there are issues in the world. People have been murdered, raped, held at gun point, and a more horrible list on. But why is this connected with traveling and that it is the travelers fault for being in these situations? I often tell my friends I felt more safe in Argentina than in some areas of my own neighborhood! That means that where I'm living is no different than any other state in the USA or any country in this world. Sure there are the statuses of the 'first world', 'second world', and 'third world' countries. But I happen to think that shouldn't matter.
I once looked at a list of the worlds most dangerous cities and I saw that Washington DC was on top of the list. And guess what? It's in the US, which is considered a 'first world' country. That's equal to any other country in a 'third world' country.
-Just for the record-
I don't consider or group countries/continents by 'first world', 'second world', 'third world', and so on. I believe every country is equal and I admire and appreciate everything this world offers. In fact, to me, just the offerings that each culture has to this world makes one richer than anything like money and power.
So what makes one tell me it's ok to go to Washington DC to visit the capitol and experience the historic landmarks there but I can't go to Mexico City because there is way too much 'violence'. Which I do believe to be true, but what about the violence and in our countries capitol? By the way, I did spend some time in Mexico City and I absolutely loved it. I felt very safe there and it felt normal. Just as normal as going down to Los Angeles.
Alexandria, Egypt
Why can't violence be connected with the people who make these sad choices and not be connected with those who appreciate our Earth and the beauty it offers us?
I love traveling. I grew up always wanting to learn something new. Very openminded. My parents would constantly tell me that I am a mixed race because I have a little of every culture in me. I of course appreciate my own, but I also am thankful for each person who has come into my life or who I've seen on my travels for the many things they can offer to anyone.
And I enjoy going alone. I am an independent person and I can assume most females who travel alone are also just as independent as well. We enjoy exploring new sites, heading off the unbeaten path, and gaining knowledge from places we probably would have never learned if we had stayed in the same place our whole lives. You can't learn this in any guide book (which I will never use!) and in any book you read throughout the years of schooling we are given.
I love the fact that I can go at my own pace, see what I'd like to see, and be open to last minute changes, which I'm known for doing! I like to do my research on the country I'll be going to but I usually figure out what I'll do once I get there because I find there are hidden gems in each country that you will not find normally within a regular search of your computer or guidebook.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Yes, as solo female travelers we do take extra care when we travel. We don't just go and head to dangerous zones or leave a night club on our own in the wee hours of the morning. We know better. We have good heads on our shoulders and we would never leave the country with the intentions of putting ourselves in harmful situations.
Sometimes I feel that I miss out on some things when I go alone because even I get extremely cautious at night and won't wander anywhere unless I know there will be a scene of people who are enjoying the night street food life and spending quality time with their friends. I do not attend night clubs anyway. My adventure style is to appreciate the peoples daily lives and learn more about their culture instead of partying the night away and waking up late the next morning.
Now I can probably assume you will bring up in the recent years the horrible events that have taken place in certain countries, states, and islands where there are females victims in the news and say, "Well what about them? I still do not agree with your choices and/or lifestyle." I refuse to talk about these stories in the news because I don't personally know what happened, where they were, and the precautions that were or were not taken. I feel very sad for these females and their families and I can't imagine what it feels like to lose a loved one in this kind of way. It definitely changes their perspective of travel and I completely understand their opinion.
But what I can say is that this is not an everyday occurrence. There are many in this world that choose to make unfortunate decisions that may cost someones life but you can't say that happens in only certain places. This happens everywhere. If we all lived a life scared of the world, what kind of world would we turn out to be? We cannot just live with the assumption that this world is a dangerous place and we, especially females, must not explore our land. Our Earth. It's pristine beauty.
So if you do know a female who wants to start out on her own adventure, encourage her. Give her love. Give her your friendship. Your safety tips but know she already has them in mind. Know she will email you, send you postcards, and will keep in touch to let you know she is having the time of her life. Once in awhile, you'll go a week or so without hearing from her. Before you worry, she may be in a beautiful new, off the beaten path land that has yet been touched with wifi/internet/computers/new technologies. Let her explore it and then as soon as she finds internet, she'll tell you all about it. Trust that you know what she's doing and always stay positive with her. The second you start to worry, she will feel it right away and that is the last thing you want to put on her when she is already gone. If she feels good vibes, she'll be a-ok.
Volcano Pacaya, Guatemala

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Photo of the day - Bolivia

El Camino de la Muerte/Yungas Road, Bolivia
Would I ride Yungas Road again? Originally I answered no to this question because I don't want to take the experience from the first time away but the more I've been thinking about it, the more I want to go at it again! For one, the views are absolutely incredible. I would stop more this time and capture the beauty on film and in photographs. So many photos I wished I had taken after it was over. I'd also like to take the break in the pool and explored the rainforest in Coroico at the end of the day because I ended up doing the zipline adventure! Wonderful and highly recommended.
If you have any questions on taking a ride on the World's Most Dangerous Road, feel free to ask me. Look for my future story on my day on Yungas road.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Photo of the day - Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
*Oh how I could go for a quick play in the salt! The California heat is exhausting.